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Indiana Grapples With HS Basketball Recruiting Problem

Andy Berg

Indiana high school basketball is seeing the kinds of recruiting violations that are normally seen only at the college level, and the state is struggling to address the problem.

Most recently, the Indiana High School Athletic Association was forced to ban Southport High School from the 2019-20 tournament over what commissioner Bobby Cox called “as egregious of a violation of undue influence” as he has seen in his time with the IHSAA. 

According to the Indianapolis Star Southport coach Eric Brand gave a $5,548 tuition payment to Perry Township Schools on behalf of Nickens Paul Lemba, a transfer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was then accepted by Perry Township on behalf of Lemba.

Brand’s payment was classified as “undue influence” and falls under IHSAA by-law 20-1, which reads in part: “The recruitment or attempted recruitment of a prospective student, through the use of undue influence is prohibited. Undue influence is the act of encouraging or inducing a prospective student to attend a school for athletic purposes.”

“You have a high school coach write a check to pay the tuition for a student from out of the country, so he can stay in the country," Cox said. "It doesn’t get much more obvious than that. 

Penalties for the violation are as follows:

  • The Southport athletic department is placed on probation for 365 days.
  • The IHSAA accepts the suspension of Brand for two games, which was recommended by the school. Cox notes this suspension falls “woefully short” of the expectations of IHSAA member schools.
  • Southport student Nickens Paul Lemba is declared ineligible for the 2019-20 school year.
  • Southport is removed from the 2019-20 boys basketball tournament.

The Southport case is just the tip of the iceberg for Indiana. A recent analysis by the Star’s Kyle Neddendriep notes that “the ‘transfer problem’ in high school basketball is growing, particularly in Marion County and the surrounding area.”

Neddendriep relates a conversation with Jaden Thomas, an Indiana high school player who plays at the Class A International. Thomas said he gets “texts and calls every day about coming over and transferring to another school.”

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